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Thursday, May 30, 2024

AWO AWO Continues To Support Maritime Issues

At first glance, it may seem that the American Waterways Operators (AWO) has spent the year consumed by a single issue: the Clinton Administration's proposal for a massive new diesel fuel tax on inland waterways operators.

While it is true that AWO launched and continues to sustain a mighty battle against the so-called barge tax, it is also important to note that we haven't let down our guard on the myriad of other regulatory and policy fronts that affect America's barge and towing operators. Because of all the media attention given the barge tax, it just seems like all other issues confronting the industry have been relegated to the back burner.

In fact, there is now a range of unprecendented challenges for AWO as the association attempts to cope with incredibly complex legislation. The impact of these bills on industry operations, personnel and resources demand that AWO continue its work to maintain and improve communication and cooperation between the Congress and our industry. As always, AWO will continue to seek innovative ways to ensure that the decision makers on Capitol Hill hear and understand our viewpoints. Frankly, as the standard bearer for the barge and towing industry, we have a full plate for 1993 and beyond.

First off, the barge tax issue awaits resolution as we go to the press.

Action by Congress so far has been a mixed bag in our eyes with the House voting to retain the tax in its budget bill - but at half of the 525 percent level originally proposed by the Administration - and the Senate voting to scrap the tax altogether. Obviously, these two radically different versions will have to be reconciled. As it has from the very beginning, AWO continues its drive to demonstrate that any increase in the barge fuel tax beyond that already in place -17 cents per gallon on the way to 20 cents per gallon - is not equitable. AWO is continuing to keep close watch on three related bills introduced in the House this year, which are intended to "revitalize the U.S. Merchant Marine." • The Maritime Security and Competitiveness Act aims to reduce needless government regulation of U.S.- flagged carriers and to encourage investment in new, more efficient and more economical vessels. Under the Operating Differential Subsidy program, this bill would provide payment to vessel operators of $2.3 million per vessel for fiscal year 1996 and $2.1 million per vessel for 10 following years - a significant cut from the $3 million to $4.5 million under the current program.

• The Merchant Marine Investment Act would amend U.S. tax policy to become more comparable to foreign policies by expanding Capital Construction Fund (CCF) availability primarily to include vessels in coastwise trade. It also includes inland waterways liquid cargo barges, but only with regard to replacement capacities - dry bulk vessels are excluded. Finally, the act would permit depreciation of U.S.- flagged vessels over three years, and allow CCF withdrawals to be used to acquire vessels by lease.

• The National Shipbuilding and Conversion Act of 1993 would give the U.S. shipbuilding industry a shot in the arm by providing $ 175 million in loan guarantees for construction of vessels built in U.S. shipyards but intended for sale in foreign markets. The guarantees, for the purchase of shipyard building equipment, would be made available through the Title XI program. Other key legislation in which AWO is taking an active role includes: • Endangered Species Act Amendment - One amendment proposed would try to ensure balanced consideration of all impacts whe: implementingthelaw, including ecc nomic and social factors involved ii species preservation plans. Spon sored by Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-LA] the bill offers a new, and we believi better, focus on providing privati incentives for compliance rather thai increased state-based regulation AWO is actively involved with ar endangered species coalition anc strongly supports the Tauzin amendment. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate bj Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).

• Missouri River Management - AWO also is working hard for passage of a bill already approved by the House Appropriations Committee that opposes efforts to change the water flow of the Missouri River if the result threatens the integrity of the Missouri and Mississippi River Systems. These limitations are defined as any burden greater than that currently placed on downstream states regarding flood control, navigation, power generation, or water supply - particularly during droughts. AWO is working on a similar initiative in the Senate. We will also continue the lengthy task of monitoring the Corps' revision of the Missouri River Master Water Control Manual. The Corps has already released the centerpiece of this revison, the Preliminary Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and a final version is expected early next year.

• Oil Pollution Act (OPA) - Regulatory implementations of OPA continues with two of the most important and costly provisions, double hulls and tank vessel response plans, for the most part in place. However, the industry awaits implementation of other key rules in the act, including Certificates Of Financial Responsibility (COFRs), and interim structural and operational requirements for existing single-hulled vessels. Still other delays in implementation have slowed introduction of related new technologies which some believe will enhance safety, including the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) and Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) system. Most importantly, the Coast Guard's slow movement to solve the impasse regarding the regulations for COFRs has caused great uncertainty for the industry.

Finally, the American Waterways Shipyard Conference will be waging an ongoing effort to ensure that Congress maintains America's status as a maritime nation by supporting the maritime industry and the shipyards federal agencies such as the Department of Commerce, the Maritime Administration and the Export-Import Bank - of actively marketing the U.S. shipbuilding and its products. Meeting the challenges, both as an association and an industry, won't be easy. But AWO's mission has never been easy and never will be, particularly in an age of accelerating government activism and limited private financial resources. AWO remains committed to provide the top-notch leadership the barge and towing industry demands and needs to navigate safely past the shoals created by Congress and federal agencies.

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